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Tested: Apple's updated 2019 MacBook Pro butterfly keyboard

2019 MacBook Pro

Last updated

Apple made it a point to tell users that the new MacBook Pro has a material change, and has a more reliable keyboard. We put the new updated third-generation keyboard to the test to see how the sound, type, and feel compared to the previous generation and break down exactly what Apple has changed that makes a difference for users day-to-day.

What's changed

Apple has remained mum surrounding these changes so we are left with third-party analysis on what they specifically are. In traditional fashion, iFixit was one of the first with an in-depth breakdown of these keys and reporting what they found. The whole mechanism has remained the same with two notable changes.

First is the metal dome switch, the part that actually makes the clicking feeling when you press down on a key cap. They have slightly different appearances on the outside which could be something as minor as switching manufacturers or it could be a new heat treatment as iFixit has theorized.

Should this dome be damaged, a key would start to act erratically or not at all.

2018 key membrane (left) & 2019 key membrane (right)
2018 key membrane (left) & 2019 key membrane (right)

Secondly, there's the gasket that sits within the switch and focuses the pressure from a keypress centrally onto the dome switch. In all previous generations, this material was semi-opaque and had the soft, tacky feel of silicone. The updated switch design has a more translucent membrane, with a material shift to a form of nylon.

In speaking to material scientists, and other hardware engineers, we suspect that the tackiness of the silicone in the 2018 keyboard may cause debris to stick in place, similar to how pocket lint adheres to the outside of an iPhone case made out of similar material. By switching to nylon, which does have a higher propensity for static, dust may not stick in-place as easily as before.

But, the clearances between materials are the same. The overall design of the key, the butterfly mechanism, and the contacts are the same. At present, it appears that the change may make it easier for Apple to perform maintenance in-store, and may cut down on total replacements of the upper case, which includes the speakers, the keyboard, the battery, and the case metal.

If the changes helps to keep customers out of the Genius Bars remains to be seen.

Look, sound, and feel

From the outside, the new MacBook Pro keyboards look identical to their 2018 counterparts. With those changes on the inside, we were curious about how they would change the typing feel or sound of they keyboard.

We pulled out our 2018 MacBook Air which has the original third generation keyboard design — complete with silicone barrier — as the 2018 MacBook Pros and typed the same phrase on each to see how they felt and sound.

2019 MacBook Pro
2019 MacBook Pro

Largely, there was no difference. You can hear in the video for yourself but the newer model has a slightly lower pitch than the MacBook Air. This is partially due to the difference in density and weight of the two machines and there was no change in the actual clickiness or overall sound.

If anything, the new keyboard was slightly softer to type on which could be attributed to either of the two material changes outlined above, or even just a new keyboard with several hundred thousand fewer words on it.

If you were comfortable and happy typing on the previous butterfly keyboards, you will feel at home here.

Is it more reliable?

Apple seems to be tackling the perceived problems with its keyboard design head-on, but it's not clear what the changes are actually going to do. They've expanded their repair program to now include the 2018 MacBook Pro and MacBook Air and are actively touting the new keyboards as having improved reliability.

AppleInsider's own research has shown how small of an issue the keyboard problem really is, (though it is above the previous design's average) and if Apple really did improve the reliability here then the number should fall even further. We'll be speaking more about this in about six months, as we collect the data.

We will know over time if Apple's new keyboards are any more reliable than before but at the moment all we can say is the sound, type, and perform the same and that there were, in fact, subtle changes in materials.

Where to buy

If you want to grab a new MacBook Pro which are showing some seriously impressive performance gains over last year's models, you can pick them up now. Apple authorized resellers are offering and assortment of MacBook Pro deals on select models with up to $200 off.

$150 off 2019 13" MacBook Pros

$200 off 2019 15" MacBook Pros